Discover more from The I-5 Corridor
A fact-finding mission at Oregon's spring game
The I-5 Corridor went out to find the truth about Josh Conerly Jr., Mase Funa, Dan Lanning and BORGs.
EUGENE — I went to Autzen on Saturday in search of the truth.
Football coaches will be the first ones to tell you to not make too much out of the spring game. It’s just one out of 15 practices, they’ll say. In Oregon’s case, school officials estimated this practice was held in front of 44,000 people.
The green team won 23-20. Bo Nix looked good. Ty Thompson played well. Who knows if a solid defensive effort in a scrimmage will translate to the fall.
We know what Oregon is going to be good at. Sorry to say, it’s going to be months before we’ll know where they’ll struggle. So my goal at Autzen was to find some facts.
These are the official findings of The I-5 Corridor.
You can get sunburned at Autzen Stadium. And BORGS.
I’ve been to 50-plus games in Eugene and have the words “Welcome to Autzen Stadium” burned into my retinas because of the same vantage point in the press box over the years. Funny thing, I’ve never actually seen what Autzen looks like from the north side of the stadium. But I decided to fix that during the second quarter Saturday.
As a healthy amount of fans were still coming up the Autzen entrance, I walked down into the bowl to be met head on by the smell of sunscreen. This is my 10th spring game. In every single one of those I’ve thought it would be warmer than it would be, only to have a bit of breeze whip into the press box. Saturday was the outlier. With no clouds in the sky and the mercury settling in the 80s, it was darn-near perfect.
And major props to the Autzen crowd for keeping your shirts on.
Most of you, anyways.
On my walk around the stadium I ran into I-5 Corridor subscriber Alec Everson and his friend Connor Falk. They were excited about the football, sure. But they were more excited to tell me about “this generation’s Four Lokos,” which they saw piled by the entrance.
Apparently, the Binge Drink DeJour is called a BORG.
Made with half water, half vodka, a caffeinated flavor enhancer and a dash of powdered electrolytes, the drink has been hailed by many students on TikTok as a hangover-proof party staple.
Seems like a fair reason to keep books in schools, no?
Anyways, I left Alec, Connor and the thought of that hangover behind to finally get a vantage from the north side of the stadium. Upon first glance, I was struck by how tall the south grandstand rises from that perspective. Autzen’s official capacity of 54,000 isn’t the largest in the conference, but it is impressive how much the stadium appears to be scooped out of the earth from that side.
It’s also impressive that in the time it took me to do a lap around Autzen, I managed a sunburn.
The Alaskan. No way.
Time is undefeated
After the game Mase Funa almost got away with it. As a few of his teammates went through interviews upstairs, Oregon’s senior linebacker snuck into the buffet line downstairs in the Hatfield Dowlin-Complex. He might have even successfully dodged his media obligations, if only had his 6-foot-3, 255-pound frame clad in full football gear not given him away. When Funa finally appeared upstairs, escorted by Oregon media staff, I jokingly asked him why he hated talking to us so much.
“I’m just camera shy,” Funa said. “There’s a lot of cameras right now.”
His game isn’t quite as shy anymore, though. Funa nearly opened Saturday’s scrimmage with a Pick-6 reminiscent of his return against Washington State last season. Funa said he recognized the look the offense was running early, then just made a play.
“Man, it would have taken a couple of months,” Funa joked about making that read in the past. “I would have been too worried about my own job than what play they were running.”
Now, especially in his second year in this version of Oregon’s defense, Funa’s all about flying to the football.
"I've been watching Micah Parsons a lot lately. He's always getting to the ball," he said. "If the ball is going to the field and he's on the boundary, he's always going to get the ball regardless. Even if he doesn't make the play, he's always going to be there just to make sure if something does happen. I want that to be my mentality."
He’s also not as bad with the interviews as he thinks he is. The first time I interviewed Funa was at Mater Dei High School while reporting this story in 2019. Funa was polite, heavier than he is now and incredibly soft-spoken. Four years later, Funa is confident, articulate, a father and able to deftly handle himself across topics.
Specifically, I found his thoughts on the locker room dynamics in the transfer portal era to be fascinating. Funa was recently caught off guard when close friend Anthony Jones, an Oregon linebacker, entered the portal.
“When he left it was kind of tough in practice. We had four people in our position room,” Funa said. “I was out there dying. We made the most out of it, but it’s going to be a great year for all of us regardless.”
Matt Mariota is a good uncle
This is bound to happen when your older brother is the most famous player to step foot in the stadium, but Oregon didn’t announce former tight end Matt Mariota as one of the attendees Saturday. Same goes for a few others in the Mariota group, including former quarterback and close Mariota friend Jeff Lockie.
The last time I saw Matt, we chatted in the Rose Bowl locker room fresh off Oregon’s 2019 win over Wisconsin.
“We’ll always be around Eugene,” Matt said then. “It will always be a second home for us.”
In the fourth quarter Saturday, Matt was in charge of carrying Marcus’ five-month-old daughter Makaia down to the field, shielding her ears from the cheers and the band as time expired.
That’s being a good uncle right there.
Josh Conerly Jr. is more than a big body
Josh Conerly Jr. has already shown he’s more than just an offensive lineman.
Last year the former 5-star offensive tackle out of Rainier Beach became the second Oregon offensive lineman in 27 years to catch a touchdown pass, and this spring he’s made some news by moonlighting over at tight end. He’s 6-foot-5, 295 pounds and building an NFL resume.
There are some drawbacks to being that size, however.
“Sometimes sitting on the plane is hard, but that’s what the exit row is for,” said Conerly after he squeezed his way through reporters for his time in front of the cameras. “One of the hardest things is [because of my size] people always assume you’re an athlete…there are a lot of great people in our locker room that you just assume because they’re big that they’re athletes. But they’re a lot more than that. There’s a lot of good people.”
Sometimes it’s nice to talk things other than football, he said.
But since we’re all here, Conerly is pretty optimistic about the coming months on the field, where he’ll likely replace one of four departing starters on the Ducks offensive line.
“There’s a lot of things I have to work on myself, but as we come together through the spring going into the summer, man, I think we’re going to be rolling,” he said.
Dan Lanning might be a robot
I don’t mean this in a bad way. I’m simply amazed at the focus Power 5 head coaches need to have on a day like Saturday. The on-field responsibility is one thing but it’s the morning-to-night duties of being a program’s figurehead that seems daunting.
Between recruits, parents, former players, boosters and fans, Lanning’s handshake count on Saturday could have easily rose into the thousands. There’s a lot of pressure to remember names, wear a smile and sell.
I wondered how he keeps track of everything. Journal?
“No journal. I probably need a journal,” he said. “I got an iPad that I keep notes in, I guess that's the same as journaling but I write down some things that we want to improve on. Have a 365 day reminder for next year when it comes around."
Lanning did have a little bit of help on the field. He said Marcus Mariota called the first series of offensive plays with Austin Novosad at quarterback, noting the former Oregon Heisman-winner has a bit of an aggressive side to him as a play-caller.
“Marcus wanted to throw it every down and I'm sure Austin was fired up about that,” Lanning said.
JJ Anderson is a hell of a photographer
I had the honor of speaking to a Linfield journalism class last fall, an opportunity which introduced me to student photographer JJ Anderson. JJ contributed some Linfield football shots to the Corridor throughout the year and happened to be in Eugene Saturday for the spring game and sent me a few shots.
Lucky us, right?
Here’s some of JJ’s best.
— Tyson Alger